Friday, February 24, 2017

Joëlle Léandre, A Woman's Work..., 8-CD Boxed Set

 
World-class virtuoso double bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre was not on my radar in the years when graduate school, then overwork and low pay forced me to rely on my fellow traveler's avant discoveries to broaden out my knowledge of new improvisational trends. Working as a review writer for Cadence Magazine fortunately gave me access to a world of artists previously unknown to me. As it happened Bob Rusch sent me a Joëlle Léandre CD to review in a batch of new releases, around ten years ago. It was Joëlle on bass and vocals and another vocalist in a live duet set. As is often the case when confronting the truly new I at first did not know what to make of the vocals, though the bass playing was beautifully strong. In time I came to appreciate her artistry both on the bass and vocal front, as I did Cecil Taylor's vocals after some exposure.

Time has passed and I have happily been the recipient of a good number of subsequent Joëlle Léandre albums, and by now I know that her high, very creative level of avant jazz is a given. When she performs (or composes), you can depend on her to be one of world's most important and original avant jazz improv contrabassists and startlingly original vocalists alive today, someone who whether in solo, duo, trio, quartet or larger contexts will give spontaneous form to the proceedings while bringing out the best with those she performs with.

So when I heard from Joëlle that an eight-CD boxed retrospective was in the works, I jumped at the chance to give it all a close listen and, as you see, write up my thoughts when I emerged from the brown study of aural enlightenment.

So, to give you the complete title info, this is A Woman's Work. . . 8-CDs nicely packaged and available on the Not Two label (MW950-2). If I call it a retrospective I do not mean it is a sort of "greatest hits" collection. This is music we have not heard previously, most from 2015, each a special combination of Joëlle and her bass (one in solo), Joëlle and a live audience, Joëlle interacting in duo, trio, quartet, etc. with a select set of improvisational partners, many well known to the vet avant listener, some less so, but all entering into intensely rewarding dialogs with each other.

So we appreciate the collaborators and how in each case they engage Joëlle and vice versa for some excellent free music. Most of my readers will recognize some or all of the collaborators: Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Agusti Fernandez, Fred Frith, Zlatko Kaucic, Mat Maneri, Lauren Newton, Maggie Nichols, Evan Parker and Irene Schweizer.

There is nothing tired or stale about this music. To quote Joëlle from the very informative accompanying booklet, "The sound of a musician is what he has in his guts, in his soul, is what he has to say. Sound is tough work! It's your identity!" Amen! What we have in this box set is a gathering of major sound masters caught in the real-time process of actualizing themselves, through personal sound generation in an endlessly open field. In the process it gives you a definitive guide to the sound artistry of Joëlle Léandre today, bassist of endless productive creation in close conversation with like-minded free spirits, all masters of the sound fingerprint.

Is this all too much? Not at all. I do not suggest you sit down and try to listen to all 8-CDs in one sitting. Take them one or two at a time, then return to them all repeatedly. This is most emphatically NOT music to tire of. Each listen brings new awareness of another aspect of all the things going on, which is a considerable lot.

I would even say that this might indeed point the avant improv novice in the right direction, teach her or him to open the ears, to listen! Get the set and sequester yourself. And for those who know  Joëlle and the style it is a beautiful collection of contrabass profundities, a series of very fruitful avant summits, a collection to treasure, but yes, to help you learn to hear!

And it reminds us just how seminal Joëlle Léandre is in the music of today.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Frank Kohl Quartet, Rising Tide

An articulate phraser who can give great nuance to each and every line, Frank Kohl joins with a very simpatico quartet for some swinging contemporary jazz on Rising Tide (Pony Boy 50186-2).

It's Frank along with Steve LaSpina on acoustic bass, Tom Kohl on piano and Jon Doty on drums in a well-paced program of Kohl originals and a couple of standards. Everybody (maybe even the drummer!?) has internalized his way around changes and has something soulful and interesting to say throughout. Frank has a strong sound that gives the lines torque, a percussive edge that may remind you of vintage Benson but finds its own way around the changes.

Frank is a guitar tastemaker, a true arteest. Hear him out!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

John Abercrombie Quartet, Up and Coming

As we proceed through our lived experience of important and influential jazz giants of our times, we come to realize that many artists, taken as a whole, have had more than one artistic period. John Abercrombie is no exception. There has been more than one way for him. His initial emergence as a fusionist culminated in the Gateway Trio with Holland and DeJohnette, then there were the progressive years where he was extroverted yet spacey, and finally there is the period he has occupied for the last 15 years, give or take. Once he jettisoned his pick, he remained the consummately brilliant  line and chord improviser, yet there was a new coolness that by now has become subtly brilliant. His tone has been burnished so that it is not that far from a Jim Hall, yet nonetheless he blazes his own trail in the adventurous journeys from A to B.

You can hear that beautifully in his latest quartet album Up and Coming (ECM 2528). The excellent foursome of John plus Marc Copland (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) is deliberately understated in its quietude, yet capable of monstrously exceptional improvisations in realms where we might not have expected them to dwell a decade ago.

Miles' "Nardis" centers the program of what is otherwise five Abercrombie and two Copland originals, sprawling long form improvisational vehicles where great things happen so quietly you have to focus and dig into the excellent details of what is going on to fully appreciate it all.

Once you do, there are some incredible performances that come into your experience, wonderful things.

Do not overlook this one. John is doing some of his best work and the quartet is a breathing improvisational entity one must experience in focus to appreciate.

A bit of a milestone, this. Bravo!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Massimo Discepoli, Daniel Barbiero, An Eclipse of Images

On the CD player this morning is a very well-conceived, spacey opus from drummer-electronician-electric bassist Massimo Discepoli and contrabassist Daniel Barbiero, namely An Eclipse of Images (Acustronica).

This album nicely incorporates cosmic soundscaping, bowed and pizzicato bass, drums in a free and sometimes rocking zone, an electronic backdrop of concentrated outwardness, and an overall arching organic quality.

Daniel sounds great on bass, Massimo on drums and the conceptual totality rings out nicely. It almost seems like a concerto for bass, drums and electronics, the latter acting as a sort of orchestra.

From first to last this hangs together well, reminding at times of early-mid Soft Machine for its psychedelic minimalist spaciousness. But that is only a rough indicator of what you'll get here.

A very enjoyable listen! Recommended for sure.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Samo Salamon, Stefano Battaglia, Winds

I am lucky to get a steady stream of music for consideration. I listen to it all and there are plenty of times when I uncover a gem that I would not otherwise have had a chance to hear. One of those today is up for review. I speak of guitarist Samo Salamon and pianist Stefano Battaglia in the nicely conceived duo date Winds (SAZAS-Klopotec 037).

The music is an appealing mix of spacy soundscapes, jazz-rock-avant improvisations, and progressively oriented adventures in sound sculpture.

It shows both Samo and Stefano as sensitive, powerful players with a clear set of direction, sometimes spurred on with composed elements, always showing a stylistic originality and a confident sense of where to go at any given point.

Samo has an excellent melodic feel and sense of purpose; Stefano's piano presence does a great deal to make of it all something worthy as well.

I like how Samo uses a fair bit of electricity to put the guitar sound into near-rock territory and at the same time constructs lines which extend the sound into further outwardness. Stefano similarly ranges far and wide with a very musical way about him.

For another worthwhile album by Samo, see my March 3, 2006 review on these pages.

Excellent!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Brian Kastan, Roll the Dice on Life

I had no idea about Brian Kastan, composer, guitarist, bandleader. Until now, that is, and his double CD Roll the Dice on Life (Kastan Records 1001). From the moment I put this one on for the first time I heard something I immediately knew was different, unheard of and very accomplished.

There is something Zappaesque, Beefhartian to it all, yet not. It is Kastanian. His guitar work is overarching everything with an exceptional structural sense. There is melodic-harmonic surprise at every turn. And the compositions have a real twist to them.

It is Brian in a quartet setting. Miles Griffith's mostly wordless vocals are a thing apart, articulating the complex melodic lines like nobody else, scatty and musically strong, yet very off the wall in the way he mumbles, grumbles, and musically growls the lines.

Steve Rust on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums are very important to the sound, too. They play some beautiful lines both as composition-realizations and as improvisation-openness.

I must say that there is something astonishing going on here, on the fringes of involved rock but most definitely within the reinvented confines of it all.

Holy cripes! This is DIFFERENT. Get your ears on it, definitely.

Monday, January 23, 2017

ROJI, The Hundred Headed Woman


The duet-plus-guests configuration of ROJI, as we hear on The Hundred Headed Woman (ShhPuma 023) makes for a compelling and joyful noise thanks to the throughly musical avant timbre and tone of electric bassist Goncalo Almeida and the fully aware timbral depth and rolling creativity of drummer Jorg A. Schneider. The addition of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet for around half the album and baritone saxophonist Colin Webster for the other half fleshes out the sound without decreasing the very large presence of Almeida's bass or the rolling thunder of Schneider's drums.

In either case Silva's trumpet or Webster's baritone adds to the remarkable frenetics of ROJI without subtracting the hugeness of the duo in the least. Only one cut features the duo as duo. But we do not, or at least I do not feel anything but the rigor of electric-boosted continuity from first to last.

It sounds like Goncalo is playing a five- or six-string electric much of the time, as there is the deepness of the amped-up bass tones plus sometimes a counterline played in the upper range of the instrument, with or without a slide but in any event more guitar than bass-like. In either case Goncalo gives us a distinct avant fullness that is original as it is bracing.

The entire album rockets forth with great energy, noise, and timbre. It is as much psychedelic-laced rock as it is new thing and new music. And it is not just that they do this consistently but that they also do it so well.

In this extraordinarily fragile and frankly disturbing age we live in ROJI transcends the instability of the present with fearless musical courage.

And to me it signals the need to stop questioning an avant garde whose conviction that what they are doing is worthwhile and right comes at a time when many of these artists have little or nothing to gain from devoting a lifetime to evolving their sound. Fame they do not get. Money perhaps very little. There is sincerity and great talent in the best. You can hear that in ROJI. Celebrate a free world creativity! Get this album and play it!